Cáis, the Association of Irish Farmhouse Cheesemakers, has appealed to consumers and to retailers to support the industry in the face of an unprecedented 75% drop in sales related to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.
Collapse in sales
Tom Dinneen and his wife Norma, run Bó Rua Farm in Ballynoe, where they produce cheese using milk from their own herd of cows. Tom says that the precipitous fall in sales that Cáis has seen, is reflected on his own farm.
“We have seen that figure of 75% here as well, absolutely,” he confirmed to The Avondhu. Continuing, he said: “Really, since around 10 March, things for the industry have just come to a stop. It’s as if we went off the edge of a cliff.”
Explaining the significant fall off in demand, he said that many large retailers had to drop some producers to dedicate space to necessary and in-demand goods.
He also noted that the closure of many restaurants and cafés that would have used cheese produced by local cheesemakers, such as himself, put a further dent in sales.
In a statement, Cáis expressed acute concern for farms which produce ‘speciality milk from sheep, goat and buffalo’.
Mr Dinneen echoed this worry, stating that for speciality farms, the animals still needed to be milked, and there was a question surrounding finding a home for this excess milk.
“It is a very difficult time. For Bó Rua at least we have cows, so there are other routes for the milk, but farms with goats and buffalo are between a rock and a hard place right now,” he said.
As with almost all sectors of the economy, the artisan cheesemaker industry has been faced with an immediate and very difficult problem.
However, farmers like Tom have already begun ways to overcome this, and to ensure their product reaches the customer.
“We are trying to work around the problem in a few different ways, and there is a focus on the online selling right now,” he explained.
Supporting this kind of innovation, Cáis has also undertaken a campaign, encouraging consumers to buy Irish farmhouse cheese online, directly from suppliers.
A growing list of stockists can be accessed on www.irishcheese.ie.
For Tom, the move online has already started to bear some fruit. “Last weekend we saw a big increase in online sales. Consumers definitely want to buy, and there are great selections for them to browse. They have time now as well to look through what’s on offer,” he commented.
Louis Grubb, chairperson of Cáis, recently remarked: “We are devastated at how the Covid-19 public health emergency has impacted on the foodservice business and the economy in Ireland. The only way we can ensure the viability of our sector is by doing everything we can to encourage Irish retailers to stock, and promote, our products at this time.”
Tom Dinneen affirmed this, and said that he believed once the panic buying had levelled off, retailers would be in a position to stock more Irish farmhouse cheese again.
He also appealed to consumers to buy from local suppliers where they could, as they needed the support ‘now more than ever’.